Warning message

Activists tell Telangana High Court there is no clarity from the Ministry of Home Affairs on how police should treat the public during the lockdown.

Telangana police attack citizens stepping out to get groceries
Coronavirus Coronavirus Friday, May 01, 2020 - 11:13

Nearly 40 days since the lockdown began in Telangana, the state police have been caught unleashing a spree of assaults on members of the public: journalists returning home from work, people stepping out to buy rations, doctors and frontline workers; police have seized citizens’ vehicles and slapped cases for lockdown violations, breaking bones in the process. While police violence has been recorded across the country, in Telangana, the number of instances rose since the second phase of lockdown began on April 14.

Mohammad Asgar Nawar was out buying groceries at around 11 am in Hasan Nagar on April 19 when the Rajendranagar police assaulted him and others. In Telangana, the state government had imposed a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am the following day— while shops were initially allowed to stay open till 6 pm, the timings were later cut short to 11 am.

“They beat us and we ran into a construction site in a hurry. I fell from the top of the building. The people and the police left me there. Later, some people from the locality moved me to the Osmania General Hospital. Now, both my legs are fractured. I have four children and there is no food at home. If we eat in the morning, we get our next meal only in the evening. There is not even 1 kg of rice at home for us to eat,” recalls Mohammad. In this instance, no action was taken against the police nor an enquiry carried out.

In another case, Mohammad Khaleem, a resident of Mailardevpally, was out buying milk for his daughter when he was assaulted by police patrolling the area. The police were reportedly chasing a group of youngsters violating lockdown when they stumbled upon Khaleem.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police for Rajendranagar, K Ashok Chakravarthy told The New Indian Express that Khaleem also ran but accidentally fell into a drain and broke his leg. The police official said his team shifted Khaleem to Osmania Hospital.

“They beat me up and left me, saying go to the hospital. I now have two fractures, they will now have to put a rod in my legs. I have two children,” says Khaleem.

Khaleem insists that he stood still but was assaulted, resulting in him falling into a drain. The officials dumped him into an auto and sent him to hospital, Khaleem alleges.

The Telangana police often claim that they are ‘people-friendly police’. The instances of assaults and injuries, however, tell a different story.

Under the Mir Alam police station limits, an auto, driven by a person with disabilities, was seized on the morning of April 24. The man had set up a mango stall and had come to retrieve the mangoes before they began rotting. He was detained at 9 am and was asked to wait till 5 pm before his vehicle was finally released.

 

 

A video of sub-inspector Chandramouli of Moghalpura police station, abusing locals and confiscating vehicles of those who had stepped out to get rations, had also gone viral. The officer was subsequently transferred to the police headquarters.

 

 

On April 25, a video reportedly shot in Falaknuma surfaced where police were seen damaging vehicles parked outside homes in a residential area. No action was taken.

 

 

Cow vigilantism under police watch?

On April 9, images of RSS workers manning checkpoints under the Rachakonda police commissionerate in Hyderabad surfaced online. Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat denied issuing any permission to the workers. Pictures showed RSS workers carrying lathis and checking documents of motorists.

On April 24, two Muslim men were allegedly assaulted and abused for carrying buffalo meat by cow vigilantes under the Ghatkesar police limits which falls under the Rachakonda commissionerate. Hafiz Aleem and his brother had broken the 3 km travel limit rule in place during the lockdown and had gone to collect meat from Bhongir. While returning, they were stopped by a group of men who allegedly assaulted and abused the duo, all the while recording the incident.

Recalling the ordeal, Hafiz had told TNM, “I went to Bhongir to my friend’s beef stall. While I was returning home along with my brother, I was stopped twice near Edulabad. At the first checking point, there were only a couple of men. They obstructed us because of religious profiling. They let us go and probably alerted their gang. This mob of 15-20 stopped us a few metres ahead.  They harassed us for several minutes.”

“They abused us a lot and physically attacked us. After a lot of pleading, we somehow managed to escape," he added.

Hafiz alleged that the police too assaulted them for violating the lockdown. In the video, the police are seen standing by as vigilantes wield lathis.

The police booked the brothers for lockdown violation and seized their vehicles.

 

 

Speaking to TNM, Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Baghwath said the men were guarding the entrance to their village to prevent outsiders from entering and that was when the police stopped the two men. “We have booked cases against those persons (vigilantes) also the very next day,” said the officer.

Read: In viral video, armed cow vigilantes harass two Muslims during lockdown

On April 22, the Musheerabad police beat up Haji Pasha at Bholakpur when he came out of his house at night. The video went viral on social media with three policemen seen badly hitting the man.

 

 

Hafeez Hakeem, the imam at Masjid-E-Qamar mosque at Nizamabad district, was reportedly assaulted by four policemen while returning after evening prayers on April 22. Giving prayer calls over the loudspeaker is permitted by the police while gathering to pray at the mosque has been denied across the state.

 

 

Abdul Sattar, a resident of Sriram Nagar, Yousufguda, was allegedly assaulted by local police when he had stepped out to buy rations on April 20.

 

 

On April 22, an auto-rickshaw driver, on his way to refill his LPG gas cylinder, was stopped at Etebar junction by the Mir Chowk traffic police and assaulted with lathis. The auto-rickshaw driver damaged his own vehicle in protest against the police harassment. The video went viral on social media.

 

 

At Bahadurpura, two pregnant women, along with their husbands, were reportedly asked to walk back home after the police seized their vehicles on the pretext of riding doubles on April 23. Similar instances were reported from the Bahadurpura junction.

A 65-year-old fruit vendor at Akbar Function Hall on Talab Katta road suffered losses when one home guard reportedly turned over his pushcart selling watermelons and pineapple. The man claimed the home guard had used vulgar language against him on April 25.

 

 

The vehicle of an elderly couple whose daughter’s father-in-law had died due to cardiac arrest was seized as they did not have permission to visit the hospital. The couple were made to walk over 10 kilometres from Attapur to Chandrayangutta.The said incident took place on April 25.

‘Lower rung of the police have become communal’

Shaik Mahboob was beaten up by the Bodhan police in Nizamabad district and ended up with a fractured finger on April 20. “I was out buying milk. While returning, they stopped and started beating, didn’t even ask anything, just started beating four or five of us. I was even wearing a mask, what was my mistake?" said Mahboob in a video.

Responding to the tweets, the Nizamabad police termed the whole incident ‘fake news’, claiming that the persons with fractured bones had “self fallen or got injured by themselves.”

Bodhan MLA Shakeel Ahmed has been vocal against police assault on his constituents.

Speaking to TNM, the legislator says that there are as many as 500 instances of police brutality against the public since the lockdown began, in his constituency alone. “The hands of 12 people have been fractured by the police,” says the MLA.

Shakeel had taken to social media, even issuing a stern warning to the police saying, “Stop beating people unnecessarily, those who don’t follow the rules you can correct them but unnecessarily assaulting people and breaking their bones is not good. you will get a reverse response from the locals which won’t be good.this is wrong, am warning you,” says the legislator in an audio clip that he released online.

Shakeel says that after he got involved, the Nizamabad Police Commissioner apologised for the incidents and issued instructions to keep his force under check.

Lawmakers and activists have pointed out that it is no coincidence many who have suffered the violence are Muslims.

“The lower rung of the police have become slightly communal,” alleges the legislator, adding that the communal behaviour is most noticeable among constables, home guards and a few inspectors.

“After the Markaz jamaat incident in Delhi, there was an attempt to pin the blame on Muslims and it has had an impact on the mindset of the police and the way they treat Muslims. In my constituency alone, there have been over 500 instances of the police assault on people stepping out to get essentials and 12 hands were broken,” says the MLA who took up the matter with the Home Department.

“Telangana DGP Mahender Reddy has instructed his commissioners to ensure there is no assault on the public and instead seize their vehicles or levy fines if they are found violating lockdown,” the legislator tells TNM.

Instances of police assault on the public have also been reported from other districts in Telangana.

A video from Jogulamba Gadwal district shows police in the town of Leeja entering the home of a man, assaulting him and dragging him outside his residence. The reason for the assault remains unknown. The district police have not responded to TNM’s requests for comment.

At Kamareddy district on April 20, one Mohammad Azeemuddin was assaulted by officers attached to the Pitlam police station while returning home after buying medicines. Both his hands were fractured.

In the first phase of the lockdown too there were reports of police excess in Telangana. On March 24, at around 12.30 pm, Bilal was assaulted at Toli Chowki by three home guards and two men in civil clothes. Bilal was going to collect funds from a friend for relief work.

Two social workers were also assaulted on March 26. One case was reported from Shastripuram, where an activist, Sajjad, was thrashed by the police. Another activist who was assaulted, Syed Nabi, has approached the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) over the incident. The SHRC will hear the matter on May 7.

Several more instances of police brutality against citizens were reported while writing this story, prompting a response from the Hyderabad Police commissioner on Apirl 29 advising his personnel not to wield ‘lathis’ but instead to book cases against those found violating lockdown.

The Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar, owing public pressure, suspended a police constable with Golconda police station and a home guard from Mirchowk police station. Both officers in two separate instances used their lathis causing bleeding injuries on two youths.

"Such unprofessional conduct of two police officers spoils the image of hard work of more than 10,000 police officers in the city who are working so hard round- the-clock,"said Anjani Kumar to the media. The officer pinned the blame of police excess due to "no briefing" by the Station House Officers and Assistant Commissioners before the shift began. He also askedDeputy Commissioner of Police for each zone to visit two police stations everyday and brief the personnel.

The officer made no mention of initiating any internal enquiry into the increasing instances of police brutality. Despite the Hyderabad police commissioner appealing to his force, another instance of police excess was reported but under the Rachakonda police commissionerate in Hyderabad.

A son taking his father for treatment to Erragadda Mental Hospital was stopped and assaulted on April 30, his mother who tried to prevent her son from being whisked away by the Malkajgiri police, abused in vulgar language.

 

 

Unclear guidelines from MHA

SQ Masood, a political activist and fellow with ActionAid India, wrote to the Telangana High Court calling for an overhaul of police behaviour during the lockdown. Taking suo motu cognisance of the letter, the court has taken up the matter as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

The PIL calls for sensitisation of the police force and quashing of cases of lockdown violation. It also seeks to release vehicles seized during the lockdown. The PIL calls for a better system of issuing passes from both the police station and at the ward level, apart from opening ward level local clinics and hospitals with outpatient facilities.

The behaviour of the police indicates a problem with the fundamental character of the Indian police, wrote Masood in his letter to the court

“The police are treating this situation as a law and order issue,” writes Masood who argues that the stand-off between the public and the police arises due to lack of clarity on how the police must interact with the public during a lockdown. “There is a high need to sensitise police personnel to deal with the situation,” he writes.

The activist points at the ambiguity in the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on March 24 on measures to be taken by the authorities."It’s a classic example of hurried, poor drafting of even such momentous orders,” said Masood.

He draws attention to paragraph 15 of the MHA guideline, which reads: “All enforcing authorities to note that these strict restrictions fundamentally relate to the movement of people, but not to that of essential goods.”

Masood pointed out that this provision was “clearly self-contradictory” as no clear direction was given to the police on how to regulate the movement of people and determine the purpose of movement.

“In a residential colony of 300 houses, almost every household will need something every day. Even if they depute just one person once a day, 300 people will have to venture out to shop in the neighbourhood. Under what authority are the cops shooing them away, beating them up or seizing their vehicles? Bikes or even cars may be required—after all, how many people are strong enough to carry 20 kg flour on their shoulders for even half a km?” the activist asks the Telangana High Court in his letter.

Read: Migrant workers housed at IIT Hyderabad attack cops, want to go back home

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.